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Lioness

Mashatu madness | Dramatic scenes

With a new group of students arriving at the EcoTraining Mashatu Camp, the instructors needed to show them around the reserve so they could start orientating themselves. They started out on morning safari as usual, and if you believe it, by 05:30 am it was already 30°C, so with that, it only made sense to visit one of the major water points in the riverbed.

The instructors and students clambered over East-West ridge, using rocky crossing which ensured that any students that were maybe dozing off were now very much awake! Next up was the fever berry forest, where they stopped for a bit to talk about the medicinal uses of this tree and made spinning tops out of the developing fruit. This is a game played by Tswana children and it proved to be more difficult than anticipated.

Once moving out of the fever berry forest, a tawny eagle was spotted posing beautifully on a dead tree, no one thought much of it, as there is a pair that are seen almost every day in the area. Then someone spotted some jackals in the distance and at that very moment, something caught their eyes…

Tawny Eagle in flight

Tawny Eagle (c) Tayla McCurdy

There was movement through the foliage that lined the rivers banks. Instructor Tayla McCurdy grabbed her binoculars, then explained to the students that there was a lioness coming their way with her cubs trailing behind her. One of the students then informed Tayla that the jackals were feeding on some kind of carcass, it turned out to be a fully-grown eland – the world’s largest antelope!

The lioness and cubs’ bellies were all bursting at the seam, the temperature had now climbed a fair amount and she wasn’t interested in eating but was instead looking for some shade. This meant that she had to move away from the carcass, and lead the cubs to a cool spot to rest for the day. She trundled along with her little ones in tow back towards the fever berry forest.

Lion cubs

Lion cubs in Mashatu (c) Tayla McCurdy

The vehicles were not covered so, sitting in an open safari vehicle (the best kind) lathering on sunscreen, quenching their thirst the students were also sitting down-wind from the fresh stench of the carcass. So, why did they not move out of the sighting into a more comfortable location?

A: Sometimes you need to learn to stomach horrid smells as a safari guide (this was mild).

B: The instructors were proactive in their guiding and guessed what might happen and wanted to be in the perfect position where they would not be interfering with the sighting. Thankfully, they were right! The vultures arrived out of nowhere and started circling above them, then one by one they started landing.

This was an impressive scene and comical at the same time. Vultures are not the most agile birds when it comes to landing, they bound about at great speed before coming to a complete halt. Then, in a very gangster-like movement with wings spread out they ran towards the carcass. There is always lots of squabbling amongst the various species, with the most dominant species being white-backed vultures and then a few Cape vultures joined the feeding frenzy.

Next minute the lioness burst out of the bush, she trotted angrily towards the scene scaring away as many of the thieving birds as she could. Just as quickly as the vultures arrived, they vanished into thin air, with the exception of a few brave souls that lingered on the tops of nearby trees.

In the video you have just watched, there are many hardships, firstly the lioness on her own trying to successfully raise, protect and feed her cubs, they too were battling what looked like mange. Then the second is the constant battle between predator and scavenger, the vultures, in the end, decimated the carcass and the lioness left the area with her cubs, luckily there are plenty of animals for her to hunt in Mashatu. Every single person on the vehicle were in awe of the sighting, some may have to wait many years to witness a spectacle like that again.

If you want to experience a possible sighting like this, or even have a dream of guiding people in the African wilderness. Why not look at the various courses we have on offer? Or contact enquires on enquires@ecotraining.co.za to learn more.

Do you think you know how to ID a tree?

The current students on the EcoTraining Field Guide Course were taken on a walk around the Pridelands Camp to learn to identify various tree species. This course, recognized by FGASA as their Apprentice Field Guide Course, offers all the students to learn something new and for the international students the opportunity to see these species for the first time.

EcoTraining Pridelands Classroom

Student in the EcoTraining Pridelands Camp classroom

Before the tree identification walk could take place, all the students needed to have a lecture on the trees that they could possibly see whilst on their walk. The theoretical side of the lecture would inform them of the scientific as well as the common names of the trees as well as which parts can be utilized to make an accurate identification. Once this information had been shared, instructors Steve Baillie and Rhodes Bezuidenhout took the students on a walk around Pridelands camp to put all the theoretical knowledge to practical use.

EcoTraining Instructor

EcoTraining instructor Steve Ballie introducing some of the trees

For their assessment, and to be competent to pass the module, the students have to be able to name three tree species but they also have to identify some of their uses, whether it be cultural, traditional or medicinal. On this practical walk, the students were asked to identify seven species.

Buffalo Thorn Tree

Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata)

The Afrikaans name, ‘blinkblaar-wag-‘n-bietjie’, is very descriptive! Getting entangled in one of these does tend to curtail your activity.

Probably more than any other tree, the Buffalo Torn has far-reaching cultural importance in Eastern and Southern Africa, with many beliefs attributed to it.  In Botswana, the tree is believed to protect from lightning. The fruits are edible and nutritious though not very appetizing and can be eaten fresh, dried or made into porridge. Mix the crushed fruit pulp with water and you have a thirst-quenching drink, ferment it and you have a beer! The young leaves can be prepared similarly to spinach. Roasted seeds can be used as ‘pap’ or a coffee substitute. The wood is used for fence posts, fuel and tool handles. Nothing goes to waste. The sap can be used as a poison, the bark can be used to aid in tanning skins and hides. The roots have been known to aid in the treatment of snake bites, while the high tannin levels make it a remedy for dysentery.

The tree provides sustenance for animals and birds alike, including the elephant and the black rhino. Its nectar is a rich food source for local bee populations.

Weeping wattle

Weeping Wattle (Peltophorum africanum)

Also referred to as the African blackwood or African false-wattle, the bark is usually grooved and dark brown in the older plants. It has easily identifiable acacia-like leaves and yellow flowers. Not only is this tree a source of pollen for bees, birds and other insects, it is also utilized in many traditional medicines. It is said that the roots have antibacterial properties that can be used to treat wounds. They are also used in the treatment of mouth sores and can help relieve toothache. The leaves are said to remove internal parasites. The wide canopy and thick leafy canopy make ideal shade for animals and humans alike.

Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea)

Sickle Bush (Dichrostachys cinerea)

Occurring throughout Africa, it also found in Madagascar, India, Indonesia, and Australia. The spines, which are modified hardened branchlets, have been known to be the chief source of many punctures to tires on game drive vehicles. Often leading to it being referred to colloquially as “Landrovis Papwielus”. As a pioneer species, it can establish itself quickly and acts as an erosion barrier. Being termite resistant, it is used in the manufacture of fence posts and it is a constant source of quality firewood for the local communities. Like many African tree species, this too has medicinal properties. The roots can be used as a local anaesthetic and in Botswana, it is often prescribed by traditional healers as a tapeworm cure. The lilac upper-half and the yellow lower have of the sweet-smelling puffy flowers give rise to a rather descriptive name, the Chinese lantern tree.

Tamboti thicket

Tamboti (thicket) (Spirostachys africana)

An interesting fact about the Tamboti is that the milky latex that is secreted is poisonous to humans, but not to animals. It is a food source for many species of antelope, elephants, and black rhino. Porcupines’ appetites for the bark is so voracious that they sometimes ringbark the trees, which can lead to the death of the tree. The reason for referring to it as the ‘Jumping bean tree’, is that small grey moth from the Pyralidae family often lays its eggs in the fruit and the larvae cause the bean to ‘jump’ once they hatched.

Russet Bushwillow Tree

Russet Bushwillow (Combretum hereroense)

While students like Kaenan took notes, Steve shared his knowledge with the group. Found in the Lowveld, this tree is often found in rocky areas and sometimes on river banks. The leaves are enjoyed by several antelope species as well as both elephant and giraffe. It is a very dense wood and as a result, it is often used to manufacture handles for tools and mine supports. If you are looking to make yourself a walking stick, then this is the tree to choose from. The seeds can also be used to make tea. If you want to know how to make bushwillow tea have a look at this video as instructor Mike Anderson shows us how it is done.

Jackalberry Tree

Jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis)

The Jackalberry tree is found throughout Africa. These trees are often found growing from termite mounds as they prefer the deep sedimentary soils (but it is also not uncommon for them to grow in sandy soils). As the wood of the Jackalberry is almost impermeable to termites, this makes a nice symbiotic relationship, as the termite colonies provide the tree with aerated soil and a source of moisture. In turn, the roots of the tree protect the termites, who don’t eat the living wood. Jackalberry wood is almost termite-resistant after it has been cut down and is most useful in the making of fence posts and tool handles. These trees can grow up to 24m with a circumference of 5m. The female Jackalberry is the only one to produce fruit.

Zebrawood Tree

Zebrawood (Dalbergia melanoxylon)

This tree occurs on all soil types although it is easier to find in areas with clay soils or on rocky outcrops. The heartwood, which is dark in colour, is heavier than the outer ring and, is also heavier than the iconic Leadwood tree. The flowers are a scented greenish-white that covers the tree during the summer months. The roots are favoured by elephants, while the leaves are enjoyed by a variety of species, including giraffe. The traditional medicinal properties include using the roots to treat headaches and toothache. The roots and the wood are often used to make woodwind instruments and jewellery.

So, next time you take a walk in your neighbourhood try and see how many trees you can identify. Taking into consideration all the different uses from one tree, your expert knowledge might just come in handy someday.

Would you like to brush up on your knowledge of tree species? Then why not enrol in one of the many courses offered by EcoTraining? To find out more, email enquiries@ecotraining.com

If you would like to still learn more have a look at our Flora Friday Series on EcoTraining TV.

EcoTraining student and instructor

Mandela Day and a tribute to Johnny Clegg | EcoTraining Mashatu Camp

In 2009, the United Nations declared that July 18th, Mabida’s birthday would be celebrated internationally as Mandela Day. In tribute to the 67 years that he fought for equality and social justice, communities, businesses and individuals were tasked with ‘giving back’ for 67 minutes.

EcoTraining is launching the accredited FGASA Field Guide course in the Masai Mara, Kenya

EcoTraining, South Africa’s largest and oldest safari guide and wildlife training organisation will be offering the well-known FGASA level 1 (NQF 2) accredited Field Guide qualification in Kenya from the 14th September this year. A recognised accreditation in Kenya, the launch of this course also means lower rates for participants who want to acquire this qualification at a rate of USD 7,970.00.

Over the duration of fifty five days, participants on this course will traverse not one, not two but three different conservancies encompassing over 16,000 hectares, providing students access to a diverse range of biomes and elements that make this a truly sought after course in the industry.

Students will stay in unfenced tented and banda accommodation over the duration of the course. This truly immersive ‘live-in’ experience will allow participants to connect with the natural environment and develop their situational awareness which is an important part of becoming a field guide professional.

This course provides a solid foundation for many environmental careers in the wildlife, lodge and conservation sector. What makes this course so unique is its relevance to the natural environment of Kenya. Covering a broad spectrum of subjects, students also learn about the cohabitation and conflict between the community herdsmen with their livestock, crops and wildlife.

The course contains a combination of formal lectures and practical field experience, affording students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills whether it be on game drives or on-foot guided walks. Participants will have the opportunity to be assessed for their EcoTraining and FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) qualification which is conducted by EcoTraining instructors who are accredited FGASA assessors.

EcoTraining is of the firm belief that conservation is about people effecting positive change in the world. This is a milestone for EcoTraining in the plight for providing more access to environmental education in Kenya.

For more information about this upcoming course contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za

A morning drive to awaken your senses

The camp kitchen is a hive of activity as the sun slowly starts to filter through the trees. A warm beverage (or two) before setting off on an early morning game drive is always a must.

After the quick morning coffee and a chat about the game drive plan, you are then off on a new adventure. You never know what the day has in store for you. It’s very exciting.

Julia Wheeler (c)

Selati camp being situated on the banks of the Selati River makes the mornings even more beautiful, with breathtaking sunrises and interesting animals coming to investigate around the water’s edge the possibilities are endless.

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

Kirsten Scholtz (c)

It is always a pleasure to be out on a drive, even if the vehicle seems to be at an impossible angle. In this instance an instructor was driving, but the students each get a turn behind the wheel. They get to know the capabilities of the vehicle and they get to understand how to interact with guests in situations that might arise while on a drive.

David Batzofin (c)

Vultures perched on trees can give away the presence of a carcass, which in turn often signifies the fact that there are predators in the area. These two White backed vultures looked like they had a disagreement.

David Batzofin (c)

A look can say it all. Often when you get close to a lion, even if you are in a vehicle, a low growl will warn you of their mood.

David Batzofin (c)

Could this be a Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticose)?

Every drive is a learning opportunity for the students. Be it an animal, bird, insect or plant species. Questions are asked by the instructors to make certain that every safari drive it utilized to the fullest.

David Batzofin (c)

This is one of the Kingfisher species that does not eat fish. Instead it preys on insects like grasshoppers and locusts. They have been known to catch and eat lizards.

There is also a recorded case of one seen eating a bat! Of the 10 Kingfisher species found in South Africa, only 4 have a fish based diet.

David Batzofin (c)

The students make time for a sundowner break on the viewing deck perched high above the vast bushveld that stretched out towards the horizon.

David Batzofin (c)

There is no better way to end a day in Africa. Our sunsets are spectacular and will creep into the hearts and souls of students, both local and International.

FGASA | Frequently asked questions and answers

Starting out in a new job or career can be a daunting prospect. We at EcoTraining have found that these are some of the most frequently asked questions when students consider joining our 1 year ‘Professional Field Guide course’ or our 55 day FGASA level 1 (NQF2) course.

A year is a major commitment to a future in any industry and getting a guiding qualification is no exception. Proper research and due diligence is an important process when deciding what course is best for you. Before we share answers to frequently asked questions, let us give you a brief background of what FGASA is and what they do.

FGASA, the acronym stands for ‘The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa’. A Section 21 company, it was formally established in 1990 by a group of professional guides aiming to set a standard for nature guiding practice. FGASA represents individual tourist guides; nature, culture and adventure guides; trackers; and organisations involved in offering professional guiding services to members of the public. FGASA is an accredited provider with CATHSSETA. It has set the guiding standards for many years and continues to maintain the highest standards within the guiding industry. In conjunction with CATHSSETA within the National Qualifications Framework, FGASA promotes the standards for guiding throughout southern Africa.

Great! Now take a look at the answers to some of the most pertinent questions that we get asked…

Is the FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) the same course as FGASA Apprentice Field Guide?

The ‘FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2)’ name according to FGASA has changed its name and is now known as the ‘Apprentice Field Guide’. EcoTraining’s programme, FGASA Field Guide Level 1 (NQF2) is the exact same course as FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide and upon successful completion will achieve an NQF2.

What NQF level is FGASA level 1?

EcoTraining’s FGASA Field Guide Level 1 course (FGASA’s Apprentice Field Guide equivalent) is a NQF level 2 which consists of 41 credits. The National Qualifications Framework (NQF) currently collates credits assigned to various formal courses at a specific level. The EcoTraining FGASA Level 1 (NQF2) course is recognised nationally in South Africa. The FGASA Field Guide (NQF2) must be registered with the National Department of Tourism in order to legally operate as a Nature Guide.

How much does it cost to register for FGASA level 1?

Currently the registration fee for South African membership is R1,760.00. This is done by EcoTraining and is included in the course fees for EcoTraining courses.

Can I do the FGASA training if I don’t have a matric?

Matric is not a requirement for any EcoTraining courses. However, as both the course material and instructions are in English, participants on the course are expected to have a fair command of the English language and must be able to speak, read and write English. If you are unsure if your English is good enough, contact EcoTraining to find out.

What is the pass mark?

Students are required to obtain a pass mark of 75%. There are two elements to the qualification. Theory (which has to be passed first) and a practical. A student is only considered to be competently qualified once both elements have been completed and passed.

Am I allowed to drive guests at South African based lodges?

If you are younger than 21, then the answer is unfortunately not. South African law requires that the necessary license, a Public Driving Permit, can only be obtained at age 21. But do not despair or let that detail derail your guiding ambitions. Consider becoming a Trails Guide and conduct on-foot guiding.

If you want to be a nature guide, get involved in conservation or just want to learn more about nature and the environment, then FGASA is definitely something that should interest you.

We hope these answers help some of the questions you may have. Should you wish to know answers to any other question not listed above, contact enquiries@ecotraining.co.za and we will be happy to assist you with your research.
To find out more about what we offer, please visit our website.

What to expect from EcoTraining Selati camp

Many of our potential students wonder what it will be like to spend a year in the bush and how they will manage this if they come from an urban background. Not all the EcoTraining courses run for a full year and there are shorter courses on offer at Selati.